Have you ever noticed that your life is run almost entirely by habits? They can be good habits. Bad habits. Inconsequential habits. Habits that you began intentionally. Habits that just sorta happened over time. We all have all kinds of habits… And the majority of what we do every day is done out of habit!
I noticed this the other day when I was driving to Red Deer. As I was driving along, I realized that I wasn’t thinking about driving at all, but there I was – driving 110 km an hour down the QE2. There were cars in front of me, cars beside me, cars behind me – but my mind wasn’t thinking about any of that stuff. There was not a single conscious thought that went into my driving, but yet, my hands automatically turned the steering wheel so that my vehicle stayed within the white lines at all time. My foot automatically adjusted ever-so-slightly as necessary to make sure that I stayed at an appropriate speed. Everything was done automatically. The motions of driving had become a habit.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. I can remember when I first started to learn to drive, I had to be completely focused and very deliberate in my driving. I had to consciously think – slow down, speed up, don’t forget to signal, watch out for that other guy…. Everything had to be done very intentionally – and it was very easy to forget to do certain things like signalling or shoulder checking. But the more I did it, the more automatic driving became. It became a habit. Today, I no longer think about putting on my seatbelt or signalling when I turn or even shoulder checking – that’s all automatic. It’s a habit now.
And most of what we do in life, we’ve done so often that its now just a habit. Getting dressed in the morning, brushing our teeth, tying our shoes, riding our bike, driving our car, reading a book – these are all things that – at one time we struggled with. It was a lot of work to learn to tie your shoe or ride a bike. It took focus and determination – but now you don’t even think about it. Those things have just become everyday habits.
And you’ve probably had a similar experience when it comes to spiritual disciplines. Over the past three months, we’ve being talking about spiritual disciplines or the Healthy Habits of Christians who want to grow deeper in their relationship with God.
And like all habits, it’s a process to develop these spiritual disciplines to the point where they just become automatic – where they’re just a natural part of your life.
And I don’t know where you are in the process of developing these habits. Maybe for some of you, these are all brand new things. Maybe you’ve never fasted before. Maybe reading your Bible on a daily basis is just not something you’ve ever done. And maybe you’re trying to get into the habit, but it’s a struggle. It’s not easy. We’ll let me encourage you to stick with it. Some of these habits are tough to develop, but they are sooo worth it!
I mean, can you imagine if you never developed the habit of tying your own shoes? Or feeding yourself? As a toddler, it can be frustration to try to work that fork and spoon – to try to stab those little peas or successfully get that spoonful of jello to your mouth. Honestly, it would sure be a lot easier to just let mom or dad feed you!
But aren’t you glad today that you learned to feed yourself? It would be pretty awkward for me as a 37 year old to depend on my mom to feed me every time I got hungry.
Well, the same thing is true spiritually speaking. These habits that we’ve been talking about – prayer, reading our Bibles, fasting, worship – these are all things that maturing Christians do in order to “grow up” so to speak.
I read a quote this week from a pastor out in Ontario…
Christians do not automatically grow into maturity by attending church services. The truth of the matter is that spiritual growth and maturity is intentional. It requires a commitment to grow. A person must want to grow, decide to grow, and make an effort to grow.
~ Bryon Hand – Community Bible Church: Lucan, ON
It takes work to develop these healthy habits. Of course, attending church is one of those habits – but it’s just one of the many habits that we need to develop. If going to church is all we ever do to grow up in our Christianity, then we’re like a 37 year old that’s still being feed by his mom.
And that’s why we’ve spent these last three months talking about these healthy habits and how, as we practice them, they become a natural, automatic part of our life. But it does take intentional effort – especially at first. It may not be easy, but we need to take responsibility for our own spiritual well-being – we can’t just depend on the pastor to feed us a little bit each week.
Jesus says in John 15:4
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”
Jesus doesn’t say remain in your pastor or even remain in your church. He says “Remain in me.” We need to develop those healthy habits that help us stay connected to Christ. And certainly I hope your church and your pastor are part of that – but they are just a part. Your personal relationship with God, by definition, requires that you and God actually have a personal relationship. And all these healthy habits are meant to help that relationship grow.
And so this morning, as we wrap up this series, I want to give you just one more habit – one more spiritual discipline – that will help you stay connected to Christ. And I should mention that by no means have we talked about every spiritual discipline. I think we could easily continue this series for another three months – but I hope that by now, you’ve got a good basic set of tools that will help you grow in your relationship with God.
And so here is the final healthy habit that I want to talk about in this series – and it’s a combo of two things really – it’s silence and solitude.
Now when I mention silence and solitude as a spiritual discipline, probably some of you immediately think about those ancient monks – quietly praying and studying Scriptures in the silence of the monasteries or living alone up on some mountain or in hut in the dessert. And certainly, if anyone excelled at silence and solitude – it would be those monks of old.
But I’m not here to tell you all to become monks this morning. I don’t see in the Scriptures where God calls us all to that sort of life. However, I do see in the Scripture many examples of all kinds of people who, in order to draw closer to God, have spent much time in silence and solitude.
And even the ones who might not have intentionally looked for those times of silence and solitude, their time alone with God in the wilderness or in the dessert greatly shaped who they would become.
Moses – after he murdered that Egyptian and fled to Midian, he ended up spending about 40 years out in the pasture lands taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep before God sent him back to Egypt to rescue his fellow Israelites. That’s a lot of time spent alone in silence and solitude as he wandered around with the sheep – and what a different man Moses was those 40 years later.
Paul, shortly after his conversion on the road to Damascus, went out to the Arabian dessert and spent three years out there – learning from God Himself. What a change that made in his life!
Elijah and John the Baptist – even David – all were very influential men of God who spent a whole lot of time alone in the wilderness.
And perhaps one of the most vivid examples is Jesus Himself. Not only did Jesus kick off his ministry by spending 40 days alone in the wilderness, but throughout the Gospels we see Jesus frequently getting away to spend time in silence and solitude with His Father. Let me show you just a few quick examples:
“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35
“As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.” Matthew 14:13
“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:15
It seems that there is a value in both extended times alone with God – and also in shorter but more frequent times alone with God.
So what is the value? What is it about silence and solitude that draws us closer to God? How does it impact our relationship with Him? And how do we practice that today? I don’t most of us are going to go spend three years in the Canadian wilderness – so how might we practice silence and solitude today?
Well, maybe the best way for us to think about it is like a retreat. I think all of us can understand the value of getting away from time to time. There are times when we just have to stop. We have to take a break. We’re limited in our endurance – both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We can’t just keep going forever. We need those times when we can take a break from what we’re doing and recharge our batteries.
In fact, I think that’s part of the reason why God came up with the idea of the Sabbath. God instructed the Israelites that every seven days, they were to take a day off.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:8-10
We need that time of rest to be healthy – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that rest has never been more important than it is today. We live in such a busy, always going, always on, always connected kind of a world – we never get that rest that we need.
But intentionally taking some time to stop, to rest, to be alone, to be quiet, to disconnect from the rest of the world, and just be with God – that’s refreshing. That’s rejuvenating!
You’ve probably noticed in your marriage how important it is to intentionally make time to just be be alone with your spouse. If your house is like ours, life is busy! You’re making lunches, doing dishing, driving kids to school, soccer, dance class, youth group, kids club, going to work, volunteering at church, going to meetings – and I’ll tell you, it’s pretty easy to become disconnected from your spouse. It’s hard to be intimate in busy-ness.
It’s so important to regularly take time to stop whatever you’re doing and make it a priority to spend time alone with your spouse. Whether it’s ten minutes over a cup of tea, or an evening out without the kids, or even a weekend away – you know how good it is to spend that time alone with the one you love. It’s so good for your relationship. You reconnect, you fall in love all over again, you come away ready to tackle another day together.
Well, that’s what happens when you spend time alone with God too. You reconnect, you fall in love all over again, you come away ready to tackle another day together.
Whether it’s 10 minutes alone with God hiding in your closet away from the kids, or an hour alone at home while the family is away getting groceries or maybe when you’re alone in the car driving to work, or even on occasion when you get the whole day to yourself – It’s so good just to spend time alone with God.
But you need to remember to spend that time alone… with God. As all introverts know, there is value in simply being alone for a time. But just being alone isn’t a spiritual discipline. That might refresh body and mind to certain extent, but it’s only when we intentionally spend that alone time with God that it strengthens our relationship with Him.
That’s where the discipline aspect comes in. It’s hard enough to find time alone – period. It’s even harder to find time alone – and to spend it intentionally with God. I mean, God’s with us everywhere we go all the time – but we certainly don’t always acknowledge his presence or invite Him to be with us in our times alone.
We need to develop that habit of spending time alone for the purpose of being with God – not just to have a break from the kids.
The ancient monks didn’t choose to live in silence and solitude simply to be alone. They lived that way so they could be with God – and so in their silence and their solitude, they connected with God primarily through prayer and studying the Scriptures.
We see that in the example of Jesus as well. He didn’t just take off by himself because he was tired of people. He went off by Himself so that He could spend uninterrupted and undistracted time alone with His Father. Like we read in Mark 1:35 earlier…
“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35
“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:15
I think we would do well to follow His example. We need to find the time or make the time to be alone with God – to find some isolated place away from the busyness and noise and the distractions of life – to pray, to read the Scriptures, to worship…. Just to spend time talking to and listen to our Heavenly Father.
And it’s that listening part that I think is what makes silence and solitude so valuable.
You know how it is when you’re in a noisy room and your trying to talk on the phone? I don’t like talking on the phone much to begin with – I’d much prefer a text message – but sometimes someone calls me on the phone. And if I’m in the living room where the kids are playing or the tv is going, I will quickly leave and find some quiet place where I can be alone as I talk on the phone. Why?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I find it really difficult to focus what the other person is saying when there is so much noise and distraction around me. For me to be able to hear what the other person is saying and actually stay focused on the conversation, I need to get rid of all the distractions.
And I’ve found that hearing from God works the same way. And maybe I just don’t have very good focus, but if I try to read my Bible or pray when there is other stuff going on around me – I get completely distracted. I mean, I can push through the physical act of reading my Bible – I can check that off my to-do list for the day if I want to – but I don’t get nothing out of it. I don’t hear from God when I do that.
But having a quiet time alone removes many of the distractions that would normally steal my focus and it allows me to pay attention to what I’m reading and it’s in those quiet moments that the Holy Spirit will often bring to my mind the things that He wants me to know.
We don’t hear Jesus speak to us like the disciples did. I mean, they got to speak to Jesus face-to-face. But one of the most awesome, amazing gifts we have as Christians is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is His representative – the Holy Spirit speaks to us on behalf of Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:26…
“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” John 14:26
So every believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. He is always with us – ready to speak to us, but it’s our responsibility to listen! And while He can and He does speak to us in any situation, I think most Christians will tell you that in their experience, they most often hear from God when they’re actually listening.
David Matthis writes:
The most important voice to hear in the silence is God’s. The point of practicing silence as a spiritual discipline is not so we can hear God’s audible voice, but so we can be less distracted, and better hear him speak, with even greater clarity, in his word.
Getting away, quiet and alone, is no special grace on its own. But the goal is to create a context for enhancing our hearing from God in his word and responding back to him in prayer.
~ David Matthis: DesiringGod.org
So here’s a question for you: Has God been speaking to you recently? If you think not, maybe it’s not a case of God not speaking, but rather a case of you not being able to hear His voice.
Perhaps in all the noise and in all the busyness and in all the distractions and in all the activity of life, there’s just too much going on for you to be able to focus on what He’s saying.
We need to have that time alone – in silence and in solitude – so that we can clearly hear the voice of God.
And what does that look like for you?
Well, maybe it’s as simple as just taking 15 minutes out of your day to find the quietest place in the house possible. Maybe the laundry room – maybe the bathroom – maybe the garage – but try to find some place where you can be uninterrupted and undistracted for a set period of time so that you can spend at least a few moments every day talking to and listen to God. I know that especially for moms that’s easier said than done.
When I was a kid, my mom actually made up a little ‘do not disturb’ sign and she would hang it on the door handle of her sewing room – and we knew as kids that when that sign was hanging there – we did not disturb mom unless one of us was bleeding significantly. That was her time alone with God.
Another friend of mine gets up early and goes for a walk every morning – and that walk in the stillness and the quietness of the early morning is his time alone with God.
A few years back I worked at a place that was about an hours drive from my house – and I loved it! I had two hours every day alone! So often I would turn the radio off and just spend that time with God.
But I know that in some stages of life, it’s just super hard to find quiet alone time. I’ve had stages of life like that – and it’s been awful!
I find that if I don’t have that time of silence and solitude with God on a regular basis, my relationship with God withers. I lose my joy, I lose my purpose, I lose my patience and my compassion. Just talk to Heather – she’ll tell you that when I don’t have that regular time alone with God – I’m not a very joyful person to be around. But that time of silence and solitude with God makes such a difference for me.
And I’d guess that it would make a huge difference in your life as well. So if it’s at all possible, I’d sure encourage you to find time every day to spend a few moments in silence and in solitude with God. Turn off the ipod. Leave your phone in another room. Send the kids outside. Turn off the radio. Do whatever it takes to create an environment where you can focus on the Word of God and clearly hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to you.
And as for how to spend that time alone with God – you’ll probably come up with your own best practices, but I can tell you a few things that have been my practices – things that I’ve found to be helpful in helping me hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.
First and foremost, I spend time reading God’s Word. The Bible is the primary way that God speaks to us today, and so I want to have my head full of his Words. Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them of everything that he had said… So if I want the Holy Spirit to remind me of Jesus’ words, I need to have them in my mind in the first place! So reading God Word has always be a key element in my quiet times with God.
Prayer of course, is the another. And that’s not just me talking to God. Part of prayer is me just being quiet and listening for what God has to say to me. And lots of times people will say “Well, how do you know what’s the Holy Spirit and what’s your own random thoughts?” Good question – There can be a lot of strange stuff that runs through your mind when you’re just sitting there being quiet.
Discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit is probably a whole other message. But I found some good advice from David Matthis. He says…
Don’t assume the voices in your head are God’s; assume they are yours. To hear God, take up the Scriptures, and to the degree that your own thoughts for yourself align with what God has revealed in his word, then take them as a gift from God and take them to heart.
~ David Matthis – DesiringGod.org
In other words, the Holy Spirit never speaks in a way that contradicts what God has already revealed in his Word.That’s why it is so important that we know what the Bible says so that we can discern whether the thoughts in our mind are from God or simply our own. If those thoughts align with the truth of God’s Word – then take them as God speaking to you.
So prayer and the Bible should be part of everyone’s quiet time with God. Another couple of things that have been helpful to me is journalling – for one. Sometime I write out my prayers to God, or just write out some of my thoughts or questions or things that God is teaching me. That may not be helpful to you, but it has been for me.
And then the last thing I’ll mention that has been part of my quiet time with God has been reading other books by Christian authors. Books that help me further understand the Bible and who God is and and how He wants me to live. Reading those books have been really helpful to me. And again, maybe that doesn’t do much for you, but try different things.
Remember, this is your personal relationship with God. You and your best friend likely do different things together than me and my best friend. The important thing is to find what works and do it!
So find the time… No, make the time to spend at least some moments on a regular basis away from the noise and the distractions of life – in silence and in solitude – with the God of the Heavens – the God who created you, who died for you, and who loves you like crazy.
Spend some time with Him every day. Develop that Healthy Habit to the point where its just automatic! It might be a challenge to find a routine that works for you, but once you’ve developed that habit to the point where its just a natural part of your life, I think the pay-off will be huge!
Living a life of intimacy with your Creator will change everything… and it’s these healthy habits that will help you live that life with Him.
I’m reminded of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and it’s certainly my prayer for you. And I’ll close with this: It’s Ephesians 3:14-21. This is why I hope you’ll take up some of these Healthy Habits…
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.